Home Table of Contents What's New Image Index Copyright ScienceViews Search

Apollo Expeditions to the Moon



In thinking back over the flights of Apollo, I am impressed at the intrinsic excellence of the plan that had evolved. I have, of course, somewhat oversimplified its evolution, and there were times when we became discouraced, and when it seemed that the sheer scope of the task would overwhelm us in some areas there were surprises and other areas proceeded quite naturally and smoothly.

Gemini launches drew hundreds of thousands of spectators, awed by the roar, flame, and smoke of the big Titan II booster. Viewers clogged the highways and camped by roadsides. Millions of others watched launchings an television, and the astronauts received tumultuous welcomes on their return. The launch at left is Gemini V, which carried Astronauts Cooper and Conrad for 120 revolutions of the Earth during August 1965. Fuel cells had their first space test an this flight.

First U.S. rendezvous in space occurred an December 15, 1965, when Gemini VI found and came within 6 feet of Gemini VIl, which had been launched 11 days earlier. Picture below was shot by Tom Stafford, aboard Gemini VI with Wolly Schirra. The other spacecraft, shown here at a range of 37 feet, was flown by astronauts Borman and Lovell in a flight lasting more than 330 hours. Rendezvous proved entirely feasible but tricky to manage with minimum fuel use.

The most cruel surprise in the program was the loss of three astronauts in the Apollo fire, which occurred before our first manned flight. It was difficult for the country to understand how this could have occurred, and it seemed for a time that the program might not survive. I believe that the self-imposed discipline that resulted, and the ever-greater efforts on quality, enhanced our chances for success, coming as they did while the spacecraft was being rebuilt and final plans formulated.

The pogo problem was another surprise. Like the fire, it showed how dif'ficult it was to conquer this new ocean of space. Fortunately, intensive and brilliant work with the big Saturns solved the problem with the launch rocket, permitting the flights to proceed without mishap.

Astronaut Edward H. White was the first American to step outside in space. Jim McDivitt, Gemini IV's command pilot, took this picture on June 3, 1965. A 25-foot umbilical line and tether linked White to the spacecraft. In his left hand is an experimental personal propulsion unit. His chest pack contained an eight-minute emergency oxygen supply, as a backstop.

An Agena target vehicle was docked with by Gemini VIll on March 16, 1966. A short-circuited thruster set the two craft spinning dangerously, forcing Astronauts Armstrong and Scott to end the mission.

We had planned a buildup of our flights, starting with a simple Earth-orbit flight of the command and service modules (Apollo 7), to be followed by similar trials with the lunar module (LM) added, for tests of rendezvous and docking and various burns of the LM engines (Apollo 9). These tests would have then been followed by flights to Lunar orbit with the LM scouting the landing but not going all the way in (Apollo 10), and then the landing (Apollo 11).

After Apollo 7, however, the LM was not yet ready and the opportunity occurred to fly to the Moon with command and service module (CSM) only. This flight (Apollo 8) was to give us many benefits early in the progam. Technically, it gave us information on our communication and tracking equipment for later missions, a close view of our landing sites, and experience in cislunar space with a simplified mission. Politically, it may have assured us of being first to the Moon, since the stepped-up schedule precluded the Russians from flying a man around the Moon with their Zond before we reached the Moon following our previously scheduled missions.

The flights came off almost routinely following Apollo 8 on through the first lunar landing and the flight to the Surveyor crater. But Apollo 13 was to see our first major inflight emergency when an explosion in the service module cut off the oxygen supply to the command module. Fortunately, the LM was docked to the CSM, and its oxygen and electric power, as well as its propulsion rocket, were available. During the 4-day ordeal of Apollo 13, the world watched breathlessly while the LM pushed the stricken command module around the Moon and back to Earth. Precarious though it was, Apollo 13 showed the merit of having separate spacecraft modules, and of training of flight and gound crews to adapt to emergency. The ability of the flight directors on the ground to read out the status of flight equipment, and the training of astronauts to meet emergencies, paid off on this mission.

Apollo surely is a prototype for explorations of the future when we again send men into space to build a base on the Moon or to explore even farther away from Earth.